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Next Stop, the World

30 Sep



Well, I did it. Thanks to my efforts,  Marissa Alexander will be receiving a new trial.  Next, I’ll work on getting the mandatory minimums reformed so that nobody has to deal with what she did ever again, then I’ll move on to solve the problem of homelessness, then world hunger, then I’ll grab my Nobel Peace Prize, write my memoirs, and retire to Greece.

In all seriousness, this news is sanfrantastic and I am thrilled.  I REALLY hope that the State of Florida gets it right this time. What would be even BETTER is if the State chose to drop all charges. The state has until October 16 to re-file the charges against her and now the push is on to convince them to do just that BUT, if you know anything about Florida at all, you might know a little something about Angela Corey, the state attorney. This woman is the gift that keeps on giving.  I could make a joke about her being born on Halloween, a day that is tied closely to horror, but I am a lady dammit, and won’t stoop to such things. Plus, I love Halloween and don’t want to sully it by tying her to one of my favorite days.

If I’m mincing my words here, let me be clear. I do not like Angela Corey.  I feel that she is overzealous and has a personal agenda that I can only assume includes higher political aspirations. I don’t want to get into the Zimmerman thing, but her handling of that case is being called into question on many levels.

BUT HEY, I have not come to bash Angela Corey, I am here to celebrate what is essentially good news regarding Marissa Alexander! This is from a press release sent out by Marissa’s lawyers the day the new trial was announced, September 26, 2013 –

Marissa was informed of the reversal of her conviction early this afternoon. Marissa expressed her gratitude for today’s decision as well as her continued confidence in the judicial system’s ability to correct mistakes. Marissa also wanted to thank those who have offered their support and prayers during her incarceration. Finally, Marissa expressed her desire to be back with her children and family.

THIS amazes me. Every time I have corresponded with Marissa, I am struck by how she never lost faith in the system. I cannot imagine I would feel the same. I have lost faith in just about everything, as we sit on the cusp of our government grinding to a halt because of stubbornness and the inability to compromise and as Dr. Phil would say “a bunch of RIGHT FIGHTERS”.

I am happy to be a part of something greater than myself, and thrilled that as one person on the Free Marissa Alexander Facebook page said “a lot of tiny raindrops make up a great thunderstorm”. Proud to be a part of the thunderstorm. It gives me much-needed hope.


Less of a Rally and More Like a Get-Together

19 Sep

Marissa Alexander at Beach

There are times that I am absolutely horrified by what occurs in this country. We can’t seem to stop shooting each other, we crown a hot, talented, intelligent woman as Miss America, (honestly perfecting the pageant wave is all I ever ask of my Miss America. The rest is just fluff), and for some people, the fact that she is of Indian descent has perplexed and confused them so much that they felt the need to take to the internet and proclaim their disgust.  These are people who probably still refer to Asian people as “Orientals” and don’t understand why the term “coloreds” isn’t used anymore.

Let’s be honest,  every single Miss America SHOULD be Native American if we wanted to get as outright dumb as those who had a problem with Nina Davuluri winning as these jackasses on Twitter who were up in arms because a “foreigner” won. Also, some took the extra ignorant measure of calling her an “Arab”.  Nicely done, people who really need to put down their phones and stop Tweeting hatred and perhaps pick up a book, any book, except maybe 50 Shades of Grey, and read.  I would like to suggest a newspaper, but start small, you don’t want to strain something.

There are so many things to get outraged about that it can be quite overwhelming to decide where to put your outraged energy.   I’m fortunate enough to live in the great phallic state of Florida, a state that is known far and wide for stupidity.  I have written several times about mandatory minimum sentencing and the fact that it needs to be reformed. I shared the story of Marissa Alexander, a woman currently serving 20 years in a Jacksonville, Florida prison, for firing a gun into a wall.  If you don’t like her story, pick another one, there are several. Marissa is not the only one who has been affected by ridiculous blanket sentencing.

After much consideration, I chose working towards mandatory minimum sentencing reform over fighting for the rights of repressed cows not being allowed on a school bus or lobbying for the good people of Destin to be allowed to change into their swimwear someplace other than their hotel rooms.

This past Saturday, September 14, was Marissa Alexander’s birthday, and a day that was proclaimed a national day of rallies to raise awareness about Marissa and mandatory minimum sentencing.  I was the organizer for the  Orlando rally, a day that was actually more a day of me, my sister, and my 9-year old son holding signs in downtown  Orlando than a RALLY, BUT, as my friend Cherie said, we talked, even when nobody wanted to listen. We talked and we gave out information and educated people about what mandatory minimums are, and we put a human face, a beautiful face, Marissa’s face, on mandatory minimum sentencing.

We certainly had some people rush past us while pushing their expensive jogging strollers, hoping not to make eye contact with us, and that was fine. It was a good opportunity for me to explain to my 9- year old how horrible rich people are (I am KIDDING…sheesh).   We  talked with people pushing expensive strollers and sipping out of Starbucks cups, we talked with people who were visiting the park after church, we spoke with regular folks who were just enjoying a beautiful Saturday, we talked to a couple of seemingly insane presumably homeless people, and we talked to a LOT of very well spoken, intelligent, well-informed homeless people. I know they were homeless because the majority of them told us they were.

One homeless gentleman in particular relayed his story about how mandatory minimum sentencing affected him personally. He had spent 20 years in prison on a drug offense and he had just been released last year. While he was in jail, technology and life, had gone on without him. He was trying to gain his footing, find a place to live, find a job, go to school, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to stay away from drugs. As he was talking, I found myself wondering if there are bridge programs in Florida to assist freed  prisoners in their lives outside prison. I don’t know the answer, but it’s something I want to look into.

The rally was a success even without a chant as the one I came up with,“what do we want!?” “retroactive mandatory minimum sentencing reform!” “When do we want it?” “As soon as possible!” was a little clunky.  I think we all left that day feeling a little better about the good that exists in this world, and it exists, though not in Northampton, UK because even though I read that this creepy clown is more than likely actually a few teenagers, I do not feel more comfortable about that fact. TEENAGERS? Do they not have the internet in Northampton? There is free porn on the internet, teens. Go do something more productive with your time and stop freaking people out.

rally 2

I have maybe a couple more years with this one then he will decide I’m uncool


Get me the President on the horn.

I sent Marissa a birthday card today, with apologies for it being late. I included these pictures from the rally and told her that lots of us out here are doing as much as we can to make sure this is her last birthday behind bars.

If you want to get involved,  head over to the Families Against Mandatory Minimums site and do just that!



Mandatory Minimums and “Stand Your Ground” Laws are Stupid

28 Apr

I have written about the terrors of some of the creatures here in Florida, and there are quite a few of them. However, there is something far scarier than giant snails and boa constrictors lurking in the sunshine state,  and I don’t mean all the black socks with sandals wearing that goes on here.

In Florida we have some laws on the books that I think need to be amended if not totally abolished. No, not the one that states that “having sexual relations with a porcupine is illegal” though that is a real law in Florida.  I, of course, would love to know the background as to why this law had to be written, but that is for another blog.

10-20-lifeOne of the laws I am speaking of is called 10-20-life. The law states that if during a crime you pull a gun you automatically receive 10 years in prison.  Firing a gun will land you 20 years, and shooting someone will get you 25 years to life.  This law means that during circumstances deemed felonious in nature, if you fire a gun, you will be sentenced to 20 years. Not if you actually shoot someone, because that will get you 25- life, but if you just fire a gun, not even directly at someone, you are going to prison for 20 years.  Think about that for a  moment.

You might not be familiar with 10-20-life but you probably are familiar with another questionable Florida law commonly called the “stand your ground” law which states that “a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first.” Unfortunately, you probably know of the “stand your ground law” because of a young man who lost his life, Trayvon Martin. The man who killed him, George Zimmerman,  claims he did so under the “stand your ground” law. Zimmerman is out on bail awaiting trial.

Since the “stand your ground ” law, which has been called the “shoot first law” by critics, has taken affect in Florida, self-defense claims have TRIPLED.  Sometimes the only witness to the crime is the shooter who can claim self-defense after the fact.  Also, the word “threatened” is a very subjective word. I have felt “threatened” by aggressive perfume sample sprayers in the mall. I never thought to shoot them. I am joking about this of course but I am not the only one who finds the wording questionable. John Timoney, who was the police chief in Miami and was an opponent of the “stand your ground” law before it passed, called it “unnecessary and dangerous” and  also said “”Whether it’s trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.”

I have heard it said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, that if you wanted to kill someone in Florida, just drag them into your house and claim that you felt “threatened.”

Stupid, right? AND the damn law doesn’t even work according to several studies. Texas A & M economics professors found that the adoption of the “stand your ground” laws caused a “statistically significant increase in the raw homicide rate and had a very small positive effect on deterrence of crime.”  Another study done by economists at Georgia State found a “significant increase in homicide and injury among white males and significantly increased rates of emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to gun in juries in states with these laws.”

Back to 10-20-life and how these two laws intertwine. A few weeks ago I read a story about a woman named Marissa Alexander who is currently in jail in Jacksonville, Florida, serving a 20 year sentence for firing a gun in the vicinity of her husband, Rico Gray. I have never written anyone in jail before but I was so angered by her story that I wanted to offer to help in some way. She wrote me back and said that she appreciated the support and the best way to help her is to write about her and spread the word so that people are aware of her story so that hopefully this will not happen again.

Marissa Alexander had given birth 9 days before she was arrested. The rest of the incident, I will let her tell in her own words, from a Time magazine article, April 2012 –

[Gray] assaulted me, shoving, strangling and holding me against my will, preventing me from fleeing all while I begged for him to leave. After a minute or two of trying to escape, I was able to make it to the garage where my truck was parked, but in my haste to leave I realized my keys were missing. I tried to open the garage but there was a mechanical failure. I was unable to leave, trapped in the dark with no way out. For protection against further assault I retrieved my weapon; which is registered and I have a concealed weapon permit. Trapped, no phone, I entered back into my home to either leave through another exit or obtain my cell phone. He and my two stepsons were supposed to be exiting the house thru the front door, but he didn’t leave. Instead he came into the kitchen that leads to the garage and realized I was unable to leave. Instead of leaving thru the front door where his vehicle was parked outside of the garage, he came into the kitchen by himself. I was terrified from the first encounter and feared he came to do as he had threatened. The weapon was in my right hand down by my side and he yelled, “Bitch, I will kill you!” and charged toward me. In fear and desperate attempt, I lifted my weapon up, turned away and discharged a single shot in the wall up in the ceiling. As I stood my ground it prevented him from doing what he threatened and he ran out of the home. Outside of the home, he contacted the police and falsely reported that I shot at him and his sons. The police arrived and I was taken into custody.

Rico Gray admits that this was not the first time he had abused Marissa. He was arrested for attacking her and sending her to the hospital in 2009 and in 2010 she got a restraining order against him.   Not only does Gray admit that he abused her, he states that he had abused several other women before. This is from a 2010 deposition, “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them.”

He sounds charming, doesn’t he? Why would she stay with him? Their story as a couple is complicated but not all that unfamiliar. After the restraining order was filed in 2009, Marissa learned she was pregnant with Rico Gray’s child. She asked the court to amend the restraining order to remove the ban on her and Gray having contact, but to keep the rest of the restraining order in place.  She wanted the father of her child to be with her during the pregnancy, and if you know anything about battered women, you will know it is very common for victims of domestic violence to find it difficult to cut all ties with their abusers.  Gray and Marissa actually got married while the restraining order was still in place, though they did not live together and were not living together when the incident occurred.

The thing is, none of this matters. The why’s and OMG how could she stay with him are details that do not matter. What matters is she felt threatened that day because of his past behavior.   It is interesting to note that Marissa’s story has never changed. Not once.  Rico Gray’s story, however,  has changed from him corroborating her story to stating that she aimed the gun at him and shot and missed. According to Marissa and her father, Marissa has been a licensed gun owner for years and went to the gun range fairly regularly. Marissa’s father stated that if she wanted to shoot someone, she would not miss.

Marissa Alexander rejected a plea deal and went to trial and was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm.  Marissa told Police Officers marrissa-alexanderthat she feared for her life. It sounds like she SHOULD be protected by the “stand your ground” law, right?  If there was ever a time for that stupid law to come into play, a woman with a history of being abused by the man she shot around (not even AT) should be the time. A judge rejected the motion to invoke “stand your ground” because she could have exited the home. The judge must have forgotten that the wording of the “stand your ground” law clearly states that when your life is threatened you have no duty to retreat, meaning, you don’t have to leave when you feel threatened. In other words, shoot first, ask questions later. I suppose Marissa would have been better off just shooting the jerk, then “stand your ground” would come into effect. The judge also made the decision that because her behavior was “inconsistent with a person who is in genuine fear for his or her life” that she could not invoke the “stand your ground” law.

Again, I will let Marissa Alexander explain in her own words why this is so freaking crazy –

“Look at the facts of the case and be fair. To me, it’s a human rights issue. You tell me that I can bear arms. You tell me that I can go to class and get a permit (to carry). And you tell me everything that I need to do to get on the right side of the law, which also includes getting an injunction for no violence in place. And then you try to dictate to me my level of fear. That could be anybody. That could be a male…a female…somebody Hispanic…(Asian American), white…it doesn’t matter. It’s a human rights issue.”

– Marissa Alexander to Loop 21 

If her behavior was not consistent with someone who was genuinely in fear for her life, which honestly, unless this judge was in the room when the incident occurred,  I have no idea how he could even make such a statement, and she couldn’t invoke the “stand your ground” law, and the only other option is to abide by another law that states she must go to jail for 20 years, with no possibility of early release, then surely this is a case for amending if not both than at least one of these dumb-ass laws.

Circumstances HAVE to play a role in sentencing.  There is no one size fits all solution and CERTAINLY, even if you are the most staunch supporter of either or both of these laws, you have to agree that this situation, and others like it, and there are others like it,  are not what the writers of  the 10-20-life law had in mind.

“Stand your ground” laws have been proven not to be even effective and when something like what happened to Marissa happens or A 17 year old boy is killed and the killer is able to possibly walk away because of it, things need to change. And change fast.

I am sure Marissa Alexander wishes she could do a lot of things differently on that day and it is easy for all of us to pass judgement on what she did do. I am also sure she would accept the plea bargain at this point if she could. I am not saying she does not deserve any punishment whatsoever, but she has served more time already than people who have killed and raped other people. She shot at a ceiling. That is insanity.

California just passed a law that will review non-violent 3 strikes cases on an individual basis, and it is retroactive.  A judge has been assigned the task of reviewing 1000 cases where the offenders received life sentences merely because it was their third “strike”.  One of the people who was serving a life sentence who received a lesser one is a 74 year old man who has served 15 years for possessing $10 worth of drugs.

It is time for Florida to follow suit and amend these laws. I have no idea how to go about getting that done. I know at one time there was a petition to change the the 10-20-life law, and with the Trayvon Martin case receiving so much national attention, the “stand your ground” law was being discussed a lot, but I think even that has stalled. I do know that I will do everything I can to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else again. I know there is a lot of injustice in this world. I just want there to be LESS. NONE would be preferable, but I’m idealistic, not delusional.

Here is a link to Marissa’s blog with her story and other information. Currently her family and other advocates on her behalf are raising money for an appeal. Marissa told me that she has been blessed from a funding standpoint (it amazes me that she could say she’s been blessed at all) and that telling her story is the best way to help her. I hope I have done that.

J. A. Allen

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